Sunday, March 14, 2010

Desert magic at Abu Dhabi's Qasr Al Sarab

The Qasr Al Sarab is part of a 9,000-square kilometre animal reserve, home to 10,000 indigenous antelopes. Here the songs of birds break the stillness of the day and crickets take over at night.

Imagine an architectural marvel set in the mesmerising vastness of a desert landscape. Even if the finest imagery comes to your mind, it will still not match the bold magnificence that's represented at the Qasr Al Sarab resort in Abu Dhabi's Liwa desert.

Set in what one can only describe as one of the most beautiful desertscapes in the world — not for nothing is it also known as the Empty Quarter — formed about 18,000 years ago, Liwa's orange sand dunes, some towering hundreds of metres high, cast their spell long before the guest's arrival at the resort destination.

And just like a mirage, the Qasr Al Sarab Resort & Spa, owned by the Tourism Development and Investment Company (TDIC) and managed by Anantara, emerges.

A traditional fort standing as a powerful symbol of the past and preserving the Bedouin lifestyle, its architecture blends seamlessly into its surroundings. This oasis wins visitors over right from the start — the sound of soothing water features are everywhere as one enters a world of reflection and history.

The intrepid guest may be drawn to walk in the footsteps of the late British explorer Sir Wilfred Thesiger and the Bedouins. Take in the breathtaking scenery and encounter the desert wildlife or its track on an early morning dune adventure. And get even closer to what it may have felt like traversing the desert by mounting a camel before stopping to practise some archery. For a vista-plus, a hot air balloon is on the cards.

Guests may prefer to simply sit in comfort on the balcony of their room or villa, the latter overlooking a plunge pool, or in one of the many F&B sitting areas outside to admire the dunes changing colour with the light. Spotted an animal at the watering hole? Head down to the viewing platform to take a closer look.

The Qasr Al Sarab is part of a 9,000-square kilometre animal reserve, home to 10,000 indigenous antelopes. Here the songs of birds break the stillness of the day and crickets take over at night.

For culinary delights, head for an authentic Emirati meal, coffee and bonfire in a Bedouin tent set in the dunes, where authenticity is heightened by storytellers and an Arabic singer.

Guiding guests with sundials

After a leisurely meal, relax by casting your eyes up to the night sky. The stars were instrumental navigational tools for Arab travellers. The resort intends to guide its guests through the vast complex in a similar way using sundials and astrolabes.

One of the bars is star-themed, and if you're lucky, one may be able to spot one or two through its skylight.But to get down to history in earnest, the heritage village is nothing less than a full-scale educational voyage. Wherever one goes, the hotel is alive with history — 2,200 artefacts including jewellery, Bedouin clothes, travel diaries and quirky details. You'll find 150-year-old saddle bags in the library, for instance.

The reason for the heritage enthusiasm is the location's historical significance, which stretches back over 9,000 years. The resort aims to educate newcomers to the region as much as its local inhabitants, whose lives in the cities have removed them from their roots.

"This is a landmark for people from this region and afar to experience the history and culture, a beautiful mixture of the past and a modern leisure opportunity in luxury," enthuses Shaikha Mahra Khalid Saqer Al Qasimi, TDIC's senior corporate communications manager. And visitors can expect to return home sharing that opinion